Along with lifelong golf buddy and Aiken native Dane Burkhart, Brown led the Pacers to three consecutive NCAA Division II national titles while being named All-American twice and earning the Jack Nicklaus Award, emblematic of Division II’s national player of the year, as a senior. Still, the North Augusta native’s career took a while to reach full flower.
He played the eGolf Tour and then the Web.com (nee Nationwide) Tour for six years, before a second-place finish at the Web.com Tour Championship earned him promotion to the PGA Tour last year. As a rookie, he earned three top-7 finishes in 2012, but finished 163rd in earnings, outside the all-exempt top 125.
Then earlier this year, Brown broke through, winning the Puerto Rico Open, and any questions went away. The victory not only gave him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, but also identified him as a young (29) professional to watch – not just in the public’s perception, but also for his own self-image.
“You have more confidence (after a victory), for sure,” he says. “Mostly, it’s a freedom thing; you’re free to make a (playing) schedule, and it frees you up on the golf course more, too.
“You play more to win now, rather than to make cuts and checks. You can play more aggressively.”
Brown came to the final hole at Puerto Rico trailing leader Fabien Gomez by a shot, but Brown’s birdie, coupled with Gomez’s bogey, vaulted him to a one-shot victory over Gomez and Jordan Spieth. Brown had started the final round tied for the lead at 18-under par, then shot a closing 70.
He won in style, shooting 20-under 268 to break the tournament scoring record by a shot. Brown also tied for the tournament’s 54-hole record with Gomez, and shot an 18-hole-record 63, 9-under par, in his opening round.
Next up for Brown is his first major championship when he competes this August at the PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y. Not a bad second year for a former small-college guy, even one who led USC Aiken to unprecedented heights.
His own career looks to be headed to some previously unexplored places, too.
Hometown: North Augusta
Bio: Took up golf at age 3, playing with his father; two-time All-American and 2006 national player of the year at USC Aiken during the Pacers’ three-year (2004-06) run as NCAA Division II national champions; turned pro in 2006, playing on the eGolf Tour and winning five times; earned his PGA Tour card by finishing second at the Web.com (nee Nationwide) Tour Championship at Daniel Island in 2011.
Highlights: Won his first PGA Tour event in April 2013 at the Puerto Rico Open; had three top-7 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2012 as a rookie; withdrew after three rounds of the 2012 Greenbrier Classic to be with wife Allison for the birth of their first child, Ellie; member of the USC Aiken Athletic Hall of Fame; represented the U.S. in the 2006 U.S. vs. Japan Matches.
Where I play: “I’m going to say Palmetto Golf Club, that’s one of my favorites for sure. Musgrove Mill (near Clinton) is another hidden gem, and Chanticleer in Greenville is pretty high up there, as is Sage Valley (near Graniteville). There are so man good ones, but Palmetto ranks as my highest.
“Along the coast, Secession (Beaufort) is one of my favorites; that’s pretty cool down there. I’ve had a lot of success in Charleston; the Country Club of Charleston is really great, and so are the Daniel Island courses. Yeamans Hall is another good one. And I played (Kiawah’s) Ocean Course one time in high school or college; it beat me up pretty good. We have do many good ones in our state, we’re very blessed.”
Where I eat: “Wow, that’s a tough question. I love good barbecue, and one of my favorites is Carolina BBQ in New Ellenton, outside Aiken. Old McDonald’s Fish Camp in North Augusta is good food and good atmosphere. In Charleston, I like Hank’s Seafood. That’s all I got for you, but there are a lot of them, hundreds really.”
What I do for fun: “I love duck hunting, fishing, anything outdoors. Not on the coast so much; I’m more about the lakes and freshwater. Duck hunting falls during our off-season, and that’s what I really enjoy doing anywhere near home. Wood ducks are prevalent there, and I like to shoot pintails. And in the South, a mallard is the duck everyone wants to get.”